Is Selling an Art or a Science?

The Art of One-Call Close Selling

The Art of One-Call Close Selling

I was recently asked the question:

Is selling, especially one-call close selling, an art or a science?

The following was my answer, which you may find instructive as you seek to find balance in your sales approach between a rigid adherence to a selling system and a more fluid interaction with your prospects.

In its essence, selling is an engagement between the salesperson and the prospect, much like music is an engagement between musician and audience and a painting is an engagement between artist and viewer. While one can scientifically analyze music or visual art and break it down to its constituent parts; the notes, the rhythm, the color, the contrast, it cannot be recreated from those parts except through the skillful manipulation of the artist.

In much the same way, selling can be broken down into its parts, and much can be learned from doing so, but to put those parts together in a convincing sales conversation requires the artful skill of a true sales professional. Without that art, the science of selling is just a collection of parts that will fail to engage the prospect and compel them to buy.

Therefore, sales will always primarily be an art because the almost infinite variability of the sales interaction will not allow for a process of rigidly fixed steps that one could classify as a science.  It will, however, allow for the application of appropriate steps to the interaction, as they are needed to move the prospect through the process of buying.  In this is the art; knowing when to apply the science that is the elements of selling- the particular skills, statements, responses, and questions- to the situation, and how exactly to do so.

This artful application of the components, or the lack thereof, is the cause of the vastly different level of engagement created by an artist and a novice both using the same components.  A novice musician playing the same notes on the same instrument as a true artist will create music of vastly lesser quality, just as a novice salesperson will create a vastly less compelling sales interaction than a true sales professional using the same statements, responses, and questions.  The true sales artist will know how to assemble them in the proper order, use them at the right time, convey them with the right tone, and deliver them with the proper emphasis, and in doing so create the level of engagement that motivates people to buy.

But while selling is an art, there is much that can be learned from the science of selling- the close examination of the parts that great salespeople assemble to make great sales conversations. Much like a painter studies color and contrast, and a musician the notes and the rhythm of the masters, so too can sales people examine the parts of the profession and learn from them.  This is where the learning must begin, but not where it is finished.  The art will always be in in the way that those parts are put together, and the difference between the master and the novice will be the skill in doing so to the desired effect on the audience.

As a sales trainer, the most significant challenge is not teaching salespeople what to say, but how and when to say it.  I can assume that the same is true for someone teaching painting or music- that it is not hard to teach someone what notes to play or colors to use, but that it is difficult to teach the organization of the components into a engaging work of art.  This is not a process that can be accomplished quickly.  It takes time, repetition, analysis, rehearsal, and a good deal of experience.

As you approach your personal sales development, my advice is that you don’t consider yourself finished when you know what to say, but continue on until you have learned how to create art from the words.

I hope this examination of the question of selling as an art or a science will help you on your journey toward become a true artist in the profession of selling.

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6 Responses to Is Selling an Art or a Science?
  1. Doc
    May 31, 2011 | 8:20 am

    It seems to me we will never reach the point of our training being completed. We willingly participate in an occupation that changes on a presentation by presentation basis.

    Its my view that prospects need to like the sales rep. They need to trust in what he/she says. They may know that in fact the person is “selling” them something, but they don’t want to “feel” like they’re being sold.

    Your analogy of a musician or painter is very appropriate. The only observation I have is that once a piece of music is written, it doesn’t change. HOW its performed can be better or worse, but the notes are the same. In our case, our presentation changes depending upon the reaction or comments of the prospect. Granted, if we’re good at what we do, we can “guide” or even predict those comments but even the best can find themselves in a closed in box because we didn’t truly LISTEN to the concerns or issues of the prospect.

    Thanks for the article.-doc

    • The Sales GIANT
      June 2, 2011 | 8:55 pm

      I appreciate your thoughtful reply. You point about the “music” being performed differently each time is especially insightful.

  2. Randolph Torgerson
    May 31, 2011 | 4:17 am

    Very nice sharing

    • The Sales GIANT
      June 2, 2011 | 8:56 pm

      Thanks Randolph.

  3. mikerosss
    May 21, 2011 | 10:37 pm

    Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

    • The Sales GIANT
      May 27, 2011 | 2:31 pm

      Thanks Mike. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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